30th May 2021

Buddhist Prayer Flags : Significance and Color Meanings

Either it is a hilltop in Kathmandu, Buddhist stupas, monasteries, or the trekking routes in Nepal, there’s one thing common, that’s the prayer flags flapping in rhythm with the wind. But, have you wondered what do the flags mean and why are they there for?

Buddhist prayer flags carry a significance related to the Lord Buddha and have prayers written in them. People consider that these banners are supposed to carry prayers to gods however, there’s a debate. Tibetans and other Buddhists believe that the mantras that are written on the piece of cloth fan out compassion and goodwill to all extended space. It’s all about clearing negative energies. These small colorful banners manifest the promotion of peace, strength, wisdom, and compassion. Beliefs are that the more the flag wears out due to wind, blessings are extended to an abundant number of people.

“Prayer flags” or “Lungta” or “Lungdar” or “Dharchok” are Tibetan prayer flags. “Lungta” in the Tibetan language means “wind horse”. These sacred clothes are believed to be used by the Gods against their adversaries. This very mastery was carried into Tibet by 800 CE. Later, actual flags were further changed and introduced in 1040 CE.

Likewise, you might also have seen prayer wheels surrounding the monasteries like Tengboche Monastery or other stupas. They do have equal importance in Buddhism. People make offerings and dwell-wish in the prayer wheels as they are spun from the left with mantra on the wheel.

What does the color of flags represent?

Prayer flags embody five hues arranged specifically that connect to positive energy and spirituality. If it is to be placed, then the correct placement from left to right would be blue, white, red, green, yellow along with the mantras written on them. The setup signifies the purification of both nature and balanced life energy. Primary elements of consciousness within these clothes carry a message.

The human body is assumed to comprise 6% of space, 6% of air, 4% fire, 72% of water, and 12% of Earth. And, we are constantly moving in space which challenges the 3-dimension. The colors in the prayer flags depict the same. On the top is blue followed by white, red, green, and yellow which denote the five elements: sky, air, fire, water, and earth. The color blue portrays the sky, white portrays the air, red portrays fire, green represents water, and yellow represents earth.

Buddhist Prayer flags

Buddhist Prayer flags

If you see the wooden blocks, remember that the sacred prayers and mantras are engraved into them. The inked cloth is placed on the top with the wooden block. When we set up the flag, it purifies both nature and life with balanced energy. Besides, the more the cloth flaps due to wind; the people receive the more blessing.

Prayer flags touching the grounds are disrespectful in Buddhist belief. Hence, they should always be hung at a certain height. Particularly, the frame around the doorway is taken as the perfectly fitting place to put the colorful cloths as per the tradition.

How old are the prayer flags?

If you think that these flags remain there for a very long time then well that’s not the case. On the occasion of Tibetan New Year, specifically on the third day of Lhosar, the new ones replace these old prayer flags. Apart from that, it is also changed during special occasions.

As these flags hold sacred writings, it is prohibited to be used in clothing nor can it be thrown away. Traditionally, these old prayer flags are to be burned for the sake of showing Tibetan respect and to convey prayers directed towards the heavens. This might be part of racial entitlement. Primarily, these flags better the world not only the individuals who hang them.

Some Prayer Flag Quotes

“Power deities, for all their strength, are very much like humans, They are subjects to periods of despair and are not free from the crippling consequences of emotions, For over two decades Tibetans were forbidden from holding any religious ceremonies or prayers. No prayer flags, incense, or ceremonies were offered to the deities and demi-gods of the region. This neglect broke their hearts and they became bedraggled and weak.

– Tsering Wangmo Dhompa”

Flag with prayers rusting in the wind, making sure my prayers reach all of you. The serene air makes me smile. Come, sit with me, and hear my silence telling you the story.

– Suparna Shah

Fluttering prayer flags spread the spiritual blessings over every sentient beings cleansing their souls.

– Tashi Namgyel

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